My first experience with Sunday in the Park was the beautiful production at Artistry (née Bloomington Civic Theatre) almost five years ago. I remember enjoying it, particularly the first act, but for whatever reason it didn't grab me enough to add the OBC recording (featuring two of my faves Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, more on her later) to my music library. I decided to give it a listen a few weeks ago in anticipation of this production, and instantly fell in love with the score. The music is at times so beautiful it makes my heart hurt, while at other times it's as witty and clever as Sondheim can be. I've found that like Shakespeare, Sondheim gets better with repeated viewings/listenings; the beauty and intelligence of it becoming more clear as you get more familiar with it.
|"A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" 1884-1886|
by Georges Seurat, Art Institute of Chicago
The second act takes place in a museum 100 years later, where the figures jump out of the painting, and we meet George's great-grandson, also named George, also an artist. The story delves into the nature of art, artists, and commercialism vs. staying true to one's art. Things take a satisfying turn at the end when young George returns to the island in the painting and is able to achieve some resolution for his great-grandfather, who died young.* The first time I saw it, I found the second act to be a bit jarring, weird, and modern. But now I see it as a nice companion piece to the story in the first act, with similar themes, and several full circle moments.
|"white, a blank canvas" (photo by T. Charles Erickson)|
|Dot and George (Erin Mackey and|
Randy Harrison, photo by Charles T. Erickson)
About two-thirds of this dreamy 16-person cast is local, and while the two leads are not (as is common in the Guthrie's summer musicals), both have appeared at the Guthrie before, so I'm willing to consider them honorary Minnesota actors. Erin Mackey returns after her delightful performance as Nellie Forbush last summer, and is perhaps even better and more perfectly cast as Dot. Strong, funny, vulnerable, sympathetic, and with gorgeous pipes, she's the true star of the show. Randy Harrison (last seen in The Glass Menagerie ten years ago) has some truly lovely moments as George, and really opens up in the second act when he's not stuck behind a fake beard (I know it's a requirement of the show, but fake beards are the worst, no?!).
|photo by Charles T. Erickson|
Sunday in the Park with George continues on the Guthrie Theater's thrust stage through August 20. If you're a Sondheim fan, this stunning production of one of his best creations is a must-see. And if you're not as familiar with Sondheim and typically prefer the musical theater classics from the '50s that the Guthrie has lately done as their summer musical, I encourage you to give Sunday in the Park a try. It may take a little more effort, a little more listening, a little more openness to new sounds, but I guarantee that when you hear that soaring "Ordinary Sunday," it is anything but ordinary.
|a grand time was had by all at La Grande Jatte Soirée|
*Some text borrowed from what I wrote about the 2012 production at Artistry.